Women thriving in UFC

Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche provided some daylight on a dismal day for contact sports.

Hours after the International Olympic Committee announced that wrestling would no longer be part of the Summer Games starting in 2020, the fighters talked Tuesday about a new addition: the women’s division in UFC. The division is set to make its debut at UFC 157 on Saturday, Feb. 23.

“I love the fact that even before the fight happens, they’re scheduling more girls’ fights,” Rousey said on the UFC media conference call. “People think, ‘Oh, the outcome of this fight determines the future of the women’s division.’ Obviously (that’s) not true. They are already investing in a longer term vision. It’s really encouraging. It’s not just about me and Liz.”

Outside of Rousey and Carmouche, UFC spokesman Dave Sholler confirmed Alexis Davis and Sara McMann had UFC contracts. That means there are at least six female fighters under contract, including Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano — fighters scheduled to face off at The Ultimate Fighter 17 finale on April 13.

“I don’t think the UFC would be a successful as they have been if they just prepared one fight at a time,” Carmouche said. “This just shows that the women’s division will be a long road rather than just one fight.”

Rousey added it shows that UFC 157 in Anaheim, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 23, is more than “some one-off circus fight.” She also dismissed that her only other option for another major fight would be against Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos, or, as Rousey called her, “Cryborg.”

“I think she’s making a lot of noise and trying to get attention because she’s fading into being irrelevant,” Rousey said. “She hasn’t had a recorded win in two years or something like that. She needs to have people going on TV and making a big fuss for people to even remember her name.”

Rousey said she has “a lot of options ahead” in the 135-pound division, the lone women’s weight class in UFC. Aside from an offer to fight Rousey at a catchweight of 140 pounds, Santos hasn’t shown interest in dropping down from 145, where she was the Strikeforce women’s featherweight champion.

The co-main event in Anaheim features Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida in a light heavyweight bout. The news of the elimination of wrestling in the Olympics hit Henderson — a member of the Team USA Greco-Roman wrestling team in 1992 and 1996 — particularly hard.

“It’s sad that had to happen to a sport that’s been there the longest,” Henderson said. “I’ve been hearing that (wrestling) was threatened for 20 years now. Hopefully, it doesn’t stay that way.”

Other disciplines found in MMA — including judo and taekwondo — will remain Olympic sports. The UFC has backed lobbying efforts to get MMA into the Olympics and one of the duties for Matt Hughes, the UFC’s new VP of athlete development and government relations, is to advocate the sport’s inclusion.

“I don’t think it affects MMA at all,” Henderson said. “I think MMA is exciting enough on its own and has its own shot at getting in there.”

Rousey, a former Olympic judo bronze medalist, said the success of MMA could actually be beneficial to wrestling now that the ultimate goal for many competitors — an Olympic medal — will soon disappear.

“I do think having MMA around is what’s probably going to help preserve wrestling,” Rousey said. “Without wrestling in the Olympics, there could be a large drop in kids enrolling. But because it’s such a good base for MMA, you’re still going to see a lot more kids coming in and doing it.”

Likewise, Carmouche said the emergence of a women’s division first in Strikeforce and other promotions and, now, in UFC has led to increased interest in MMA among young girls.

“I teach and run a children’s MMA program at my gym,” Carmouche said. “When I started the program two years ago, we had one girl who was involved and that was only because her father was at the gym. Now we have multiple girls in the program. More children are showing interest, especially young girls."